CANONSBURG – Eighth-grader Natalie Cummings set her sights on the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., the moment she tuned in to watch the finals on television when she was a little girl.
The Canonsburg Middle School student won’t have to watch the national bee on TV this year: She’s competing in it.
Natalie advanced to the national bee by winning the 63rd Western Pennsylvania Spelling Bee March 23.
She outlasted 33 competitors and battled through 13 rounds before correctly spelling the word “gobo” – a screen covered with a dark material for shielding a camera lens from excess light or glare.
“When it got down to the final three contestants, every round I was praying that I got a word I knew,” said Natalie, 13. “I was shaking because I was so close. As soon as I got the word, a smile spread across my face because it was a word that I knew. It was great.”
After more than two hours of spelling, just Natalie, Emily Laurore of Coudersport Area Junior-Senior High and Marcus Huetter of St. Katharine Drexel in Bethel Park were left. Emily stumbled on “eschewal” and Marcus was knocked out with “sociologese” before Natalie correctly spelled “dynagraph” and then “gobo” for the win.
Natalie earned a trophy and a dictionary, but the biggest prize was the chance to compete in the national bee May 28-30.
An avid reader, Natalie said she studies the words she runs across in books and magazines. She also studies Spell-It, the Scripps National Spelling Bee study booklet, with her father, Steven, a computer programmer, and her mother, April, a stay-at-home mom, for at least 30 minutes a day.
“It’s important to expose yourself to as many words as you can. The more words you expose yourelf to, the more likely you are to get a word you’re familiar with,” said Natalie.
When she’s not studying spelling, Natalie is busy with band, book clubs, art classes and school work.
Natalie said she doesn’t expect to win the national bee, but she does want to make it to the final rounds, which are televised on ESPN and ESPN2.
“A lot of people wish they could make it this far,” said Natalie. “I plan to make the most of it.”